The world is run on algorithms exponentially more each day… financial services, medical systems, communications conglomerates, educational platforms, internet marketing, social media, journalism, on and on.
My Name is Al Gorithm and I am a Compulsive Equation–An algorithm is a precise set of instructions to achieve a specific result. A brownie recipe is an algorithm. A computer algorithm is a set of steps designed to accomplish a specific result with code. There are different types, but given the vast amount of data relentlessly collected about you, this column will focus on Sorter and Decider types.
Sorter—Google, Amazon, Twitter, Yahoo, Microsoft, communications providers, mobile apps and just about every single website you visit are all collecting little pieces of information that inform the data miners of your proclivities. This is based on sites you visit and records of your search history and purchases. Analytic algorithms are written to collect and sort this data. Tiny little pieces of information become a mosaic picture of you, so accurate that your future actions can be predicted.
Decider—Once your “portrait” is assembled, you are targeted by decider algorithms to receive certain information based on who they think you are. This is called “personalization.” The other side of this coin is that you will not receive information the gatekeeper algorithms decide you won’t be interested in. Algorithmic decision making begins curating the world for you, creating…
The Filter Bubble!—Algorithmic gatekeepers give you what they decide you will want to know or to buy. You don’t get to decide what feeds in, and you don’t get to decide what gets left out. The internet shows us what it thinks we want to see, not what we need to see, says Eli Pariser, who originated the term Filter Bubble.
Pariser thinks we need to see information that is relevant, important, sometimes uncomfortable, challenging and represents other points of view to keep us balanced and free of intellectual isolation. If you are getting information based on “feedback loops,” algorithmic decisions about what you like or show interest in, imagine the information you are not getting! It is especially troubling from news feeds, when more than half of Americans get their news from the internet.
In 2009 Google began “personalizing” your search results, giving you what it thought you wanted, rather than the most relevant results. I remember screening The Motorcycle Diaries for my film students with that amazing heart throb, Gail Garcel Bernal (swoon). In an effort to teach young, impressionable minds to separate truth and fiction in historical movies, I asked them to research Che Guevara on the internet and create an accurate bio of him. Apparently, half the class had the hero sites come up and half had the villain sites come up, because the bios were split that way, just about 50/50. Filter bubbles.
How to pop your filter bubble—An MIT Technology Report found that “being surrounded only by people you like and content that you agree with, can polarize populations, creating potentially harmful divisions in society.” Ya think? People are a lot more open to each other’s’ ideas than present algorithms support. So let’s get that bubble popped! Here is a how-to guide from the University of Illinois’ Web Savvy Researcher Workshop.
When we all got on the internet back in the eighties, it was thrilling to be connected to the World Wide Web. It was magical to experience the original flow of information and to share conversation and ideas with a wide variety of people. Crowdsourcing—getting input from all over the world—brought talent and innovation and genius together. Wondrous things have been done with connectivity, including our own Floating Doctors.
Do you want diversity filtered out for you? You are still able to choose! Just be aware that a math equation is trying to pick for you. You can assert your human ability to decide for yourself what you want. At least for now! Vamos a ver!